“Do you mean Capri?
This is the most common response when you tell people you are going to the Italian island of Capraia. But the inhabitants of this mountainous raft between the Tuscan coast and Corsica are not bothered by the confusion. It suits them perfectly. They know that intrepid visitors making the long ferry crossing from Livorno don’t tick the boxes for a grand tour of Italy. They land here precisely because it’s not Capri.
Both islands most likely derive their name from the Italian word for goat: “capra”. Both are rugged places of rugged beauty – except one – Capri – was discovered by the Italian and international jet set and has become synonymous with Mediterranean glamor and luxury, while the other – Capraia – remained simple and relatively unexplored.
One explanation for this is that Capraia is not the easiest place to get to. The ferry from Livorno takes nearly three hours, and even in high season there are only nine crossings a week, making day trips virtually impossible. The other reason why Capraia has remained off Italy’s tourist radar for so long has to do with the fact that until 1986 two-thirds of the island was occupied by a penal colony. Although there were also “regular” islanders, the “prison island” tag was a detour for all but the most adventurous visitors.
Why now is the time to visit
Although Capraia is still considered an offbeat island destination, even by most Italians, it’s a secret shared by a growing group of enthusiasts. An attraction is the very thing that was once a deterrent: the old penal colony. Active for more than a century, it was a fairly open prison: the prisoners cultivated the terraces and even went fishing on a boat commanded by guards. After its closure, the settlement’s 19th-century buildings, cultivated terraces and acres of wilderness became an evocative destination in their own right for walkers and mountain bikers. Along with the seas surrounding the island, they now enjoy protected national park status, meaning no Club Meds or luxury resorts will be setting up there anytime soon.